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31.4.Pilkington

In previous studies, Roman historians have applied two methods to the study of menarche. Certain studies have focused on the evidence of medical/literary texts and epigraphic data, normally as part of a larger study on the age of Roman girls at marriage. These studies have been criticized for the limited and localized information provided by the sources of evidence. In an attempt to correct these perceived deficiencies, other studies have employed comparative demographic data, primarily model life-tables. Though different in method, both approaches have often reached the same conclusion: the mean age at menarche in Roman Italy was around fourteen years of age. Advances in epidemiology and the study of reproductive development in modern populations have refined modern scientific studies of menarche and shown that the mean age at menarche is insufficient information to develop a reliable understanding of the reproductive development and health of the underlying population. The range of ages at menarche, how the population is distributed over the range, and the anthropometric characteristics of the population are also essential data sets because menarche occurs as part of a larger process of adolescent growth. Studies have shown that populations separated by geography have similar mean ages at menarche, comparable heights and weights, and similar age ranges as a result of access to medicine and nutrition. Populations, therefore, can be divided into post-, in-, or pre-demographic transition based on these three criteria (ex. Post-: 11-13 years of age/ tall and heavy/narrow and normally distributed). For the study of Roman Italy, the pattern evinced by pre-demographic transition populations is the only relevant evidence. These populations have mean ages at menarche of 13.5- 14.5 years of age, are short and thin when compared to modern growth standards, and have a wide and unevenly distributed range of ages. In this paper, I present evidence that static skeletal population samples from antiquity represent an unexplored source of evidence for the study of menarche in Roman Italy. I employ the evidence from the beach skeletons recovered at Herculaneum in order to identify specific modern comparative populations based on the structure of female adolescent growth as represented in the skeletons. From comparisons with adolescent growth patterns in modern populations, it is possible to develop a series of parameters for the mean age at menarche, the mean height at menarche, and the range of ages at menarche in Roman Herculaneum and by extension Roman Italy. This evidence can then be put into dialogue with the relevant ancient sources, particularly texts written by physicians. I argue that these writers, when taken collectively, were cognizant of the many of the independently derived conclusions from paleopathology and comparative demography. All generally agree that menarche occurred around the age of fourteen and some correctly identify the distribution and range of ages at menarche. To conclude, I summarize the implications of this data for the reproductive health of the population with particular attention to the onset of fertility and its duration.

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